Our kicker's quad injury continues to prevent him from working this week in practice, the week after Lincoln went 1 for 4 at #1 Alabama with two blocked kicks, when any one of them going the other way would've led to a different outcome. While FG protection issues and Lincoln's injury played a part in the missed kicks, the former freshman All-American unfortunately has a history of missing kicks in big moments.
Lincoln is 40 of 61 (65.5%) on field goal attempts at Tennessee, now in the midst of his junior season. To put that in perspective, here's a look at the career numbers of the other active SEC kickers:
- Leigh Tiffin, Alabama: 73 of 99, 73.7%
- Alex Tejada, Arkansas: 31 of 44, 70.4%
- Wes Byrum, Auburn: 40 of 55, 72.7%
- Caleb Sturgis, Florida: 13 of 16, 81.2%
- Blair Walsh, Georgia: 26 of 35, 74.2%
- Lones Seiber, Kentucky: 43 of 71, 60.5%
- Josh Jasper, LSU: 12 of 15, 80%
- Joshua Shene, Ole Miss: 50 of 63, 79.3%
- Sean Brauchle, Mississippi State: 6 of 9, 66.6%
- Spencer Lanning, South Carolina: 12 of 14, 85.7%
- Ryan Fowler, Vanderbilt: 9 of 14, 64.3%
While these aren't the most reliable numbers, as five of these kickers are in their first year on the job, it still stands that the only two active SEC kickers with a worse career average than Lincoln play for Kentucky and Vanderbilt.
While distance is always going to be a factor, a decent number for your kicker appears to be around 70%, a number 8 of 12 SEC kickers are currently getting. The best in the conference hover around 80%. Tennessee's previous kicker, James Wilhoit, made 59 of 82 (72%) in his career.
When Lincoln arrived in Knoxville, he started off so well that he appeared to be on his way to the fame and fortune that accompany all famous Tennessee kickers:
Lincoln was 8 for 8 (though only two of those attempts were from 40+) to open his freshman season, and while he missed an easy one at Mississippi State, he made four others on the day to get to 12 of 13. He was 13 of 14 entering the South Carolina game, when he was asked to make his first crucial kicks. Despite missing from 50+ earlier in the game, and despite a false start penalty preceding the kick, Lincoln stepped up from 48 with the game on the line and a smile on his face:
Lincoln would also hit an overtime kick that Carolina would miss, giving the Vols the victory. He was 18 of 21 going to the Vanderbilt game, where he went 2 of 3 - including a 33 yarder with 2:46 to play to finally give the Vols the lead - making him 3 for 3 in must-make kicks in his career. Lincoln was 21 of 25 (84%) at the end of the 2007 regular season, earning him freshman All-American honors.
But in a close battle with eventual National Champion LSU in Atlanta, Lincoln had his first career o-fer, missing a bomb from 50+ but also shanking a 30 yarder, both in the third quarter of a 21-14 loss. Lincoln also went 0-1 in the Outback Bowl, ending a fantastic freshman season in rocky fashion.
Nothing went right for the Vols last year, and that included Lincoln. He was asked to try two kicks from 50+ in the season opener at UCLA, both of which he missed, and some wondered aloud if his confidence was shaken. It didn't appear to be so when Lincoln nailed the kick to send the game to overtime...but then he missed a much easier kick that would've sent the game to a second OT, and the Vols were 0-1. Lincoln was 1-4 in the game.
He did his part against Auburn, going 2-2, but the Vols couldn't get him close enough to win the game late. Against Alabama, he was part of the problem, missing two kicks in a 29-9 loss. He finished the 2008 season 10 of 18, just 55.5%.
This year, Lincoln regained trust early with another hot start, hitting 6 of his first 7 kicks. Against Auburn, he bounced one off the upright and also had an extra point blocked, a performance that was exacerbated by the fact that the Vols lost by four points.
Still, coming into last week Lincoln was 8 of 10 on the season, among the best kickers in the conference. He left Tuscaloosa 9 of 14 and with his share of responsibility for the loss.
Lincoln's season average fell to 64.3%, tied for 10th among SEC kickers this season. To be fair, a number of guys are killing it this year - Joshua Shene at Ole Miss is 8 for 8, and Blair Walsh (UGA) and Wes Byrum (AUB) have only missed once, and seven kickers are hitting over 80% in the SEC this season.
Lincoln's quad is the immediate issue, which could force Chad Cunningham to kick this Saturday in what could shape up to be another down-to-the-wire contest for the Vols. At at 12 of 14 on the year, Spencer Lanning is one of those guys that's getting it done, which could give Carolina a definitive edge in the kicking game.
Michael Palardy is coming, and perhaps there will be a kicking battle next season between the freshman and the senior. But for the rest of this season, if Lincoln recovers from his leg injury, we look at our kicking situation with equal parts frustration and hope: when he's hot, Lincoln can split the uprights from anywhere. When he's not, he's a below average kicker on a team that can't afford for him to be. He's made huge kicks to beat South Carolina and Vanderbilt, and to send the game to overtime at UCLA...and he's missed huge kicks to lose to UCLA last year and Alabama last week.
We need Lincoln to get healthy...and then we need him to get hot.